Being an American Poet is Harder Than You’d Think – published in Who’s Who of Emerging Writers 2021

I am elated to be included in the second annual “Who’s Who of Emerging Writers 2021” compiled and published by Sweetycat Press, with the bios of 128 writers from all around the world. I am also honored to be the author one of the 8 essays in this book: “Being an American Poet is Harder Than You’d Think.”
The book is available on Amazon:

Being an American Poet is Harder Than You’d Think

I did not start out planning to be a poet or a writer. In fact, I did not even like to read when I was young. However, I did love to sketch and draw. Art was in my blood. It was only when I was in college that I realized, in America at least, it was close to impossible to have a profitable career in the arts, unless you were one of the gifted few. Oh, you could become an art teacher, commercial artist, newspaper editor, or, if you were lucky, work for a main stream magazine.  But to be able to paint or write whatever you desired, and make a living from it was a daydream, a pure luxury saved for those with inherited wealth.

To start off with … “There’s being a poet, and then there’s being a Poet (with a capital P).” I personally like to say that “I write poems in hopes of becoming a Poet (capital P).”

So many people like to write poems. Many write sweet little rhymes and musings, and many others are actually very good at their craft. But, in the end, it leads to a lot of people trying to break in to the literary world. There is actually a glut of poets out there – everyone is a poet. This makes it difficult for any individual to make it to the top. It is like a fishery where there are thousands upon thousands of fish packed in, floundering about. It is not a pretty picture. Yes, and I am one of those trapped fish, flopping away with the rest of the pool.

Today, with the Internet, it is easy enough to find magazines and journals that accept poetry submissions. All you have to do is an Internet search and hundreds of literary journals will pop up. Then comes the hard part. You have to go to each magazine’s site, and read the submission guidelines and follow them to a T. You also should read through the magazine to make sure that your work fits the style that they prefer: classical, free-verse, experimental, abstract, light, deep, dark, etc. When the magazine is an e-zine, this is highly recommended. But it is not always so easy when the magazine is in print, and it costs money to buy a copy. Consider this, you have 100 poems that you want to submit to 20 magazines, and each one cost $10 a copy.  Now you have to pay $200 just to read the magazines to see if your deep abstract poem would fit. Nowadays many journals and magazines charge a reading fee. It is usually $3 to $5 dollars per submission. That might not sound like much, but when the majority of magazines do not pay for contributor’s work, and the contributor has to pay each time they submit someplace, it adds up to a lot of money down the drain. Most magazines have a 2% acceptance rate. Now go back to that huge pool of fish flopping around trying to get into that magazine. The rejection rate is 98%, and sometimes it feels like an absolute miracle when you do manage to get an acceptance. The fact is, the more accomplished poets there are out there, the harder it is to get in to a major publication because the editors have to read so many submissions and make a hard decision. Many really strong poems get rejected because the magazine doesn’t have the space, and has to thin out the pool.

So, you write your heart out, you edit and refine, you search venues, you put together submissions, you submit, many times you pay a reading fee, then you wait, and wait, and wait; sometimes 6 months, sometimes more. Finally, you send in query letters to see what is happening with your submission. In the end, you have a 98% chance that it will result in a rejection, and you have just worked, and waited a half year or more, and spent money, only to have your poems back sitting on your desk/desktop, and starting all over again with different magazines.

Publishing books is a whole other bird. Hmmm, fishes, birds, I seem to have my mind on things other than poems here, but I don’t. Poems are like a menagerie: “a strange or diverse collection of people or things.” Each poem, and each poet is it’s own diverse universe. Back to publishing poetry books. Again, because if the age of the Internet, it is fairly easy to self-publish on any of a number of sites that provide this service. Of course, you do have to know how to format a book, and create a cover, or pay someone to do it for you. It is a lot of work to format an entire book with Table of Contents, Prologues, editing, re-editing, and all the things that go into a finished book. It takes a lot of time and concentration to make it professional looking. And, on the other hand, it is always more prestigious to have a publishing company publish the book for you. There are many types of publishing companies. There are the big publishing houses that will only take well-read authors that will sell many books. They work through literary agents. There are vanity publishers that will publish anyone’s book for $3,000 to $6,000. And, luckily for most of us “birds” there are the small press publishers who are mostly easy to work with, very helpful, and generous with their royalties. In the end, not very many poets will ever make a living off of books sales. I always say that I spend more money than I will every make. If you want to sell, you have to market, advertise, and get out there with your book. Then you have to compete with the thousands of other emerging poets trying to hawk their books as well.

Don’t get me wrong, when you finally do get that acceptance letter, and get to see your work in that magazine, or hold that printed copy of your book in your hand, it is worth every bit of frustration and agony. But it is not easy.

Ann Christine Tabaka, poet & writer

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